In a provocative recent article in The Guardian, Owen Jones argued that the horrific conflict and violence in DR Congo has only continued for so long because outsider don’t care enough to stop it. According to Jones, Western governments, media and the public have not paid attention to the atrocities taking place, nor have they called for something to be done.
Whilst he may be right to argue that the deaths and rapes of thousands of people should not go unacknowledged, he is still framing his argument in an old development narrative: that there is no hope for those living in DR Congo unless foreign experts send in their solutions. Here at Peace Direct, we know that local people and local organisations have their own solutions to conflict, and they have the power and skills to build their own structures for peace. The outside experts may not be so crucial as Jones suggests.
For example, in South Kivu, a province in the south-east of Congo, local peacebuilder Flory Kazingufu assesses that because much violence now happens at the level of the community, so any remedy for conflict must come from within the community. Flory set up The Chirezi Foundation to address this very problem. This locally based and locally run organisation uses the structure of traditional community courts called ‘barazas’ to provide informal justice for villages in South Kivu through trained community volunteers and community councils. These traditional structures offer local people a way to handle and resolve the disputes they face in everyday life, without them escalating into violence.
Meanwhile in the province of North Kivu, DRC, our partners Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC) use their unique knowledge of the local dynamics of conflict to rescue child soldiers, disarm rebel soldiers and keep communities together. Much of their work involves reaching out to militias to encourage combatants to lay down arms or release child soldiers – and this requires an intricate understanding of the situation that can only be gained by those who live and work in those very communities. CRC have also found ways to allow ex-militia members to become part of their communities again, matching their skills with jobs in farming and trading or giving them the opportunity to attend workshops to gain skills to earn a living. Most interestingly, CRC play a crucial role in monitoring simmering conflicts and providing early warnings of erupting conflicts so they can respond quickly to potentially violent situations. Because they are there on the ground, living and working within these very communities every day, local peacebuilders like CRC can often gain a better understanding of what is happening than international agencies.
These organisations provide an alternative to Owen Jones’ view. Although outsiders from the West may not be paying enough attention to the woes of Congo, insiders – locals on the ground – are getting on with the vital work of building peace. That is the message Peace Direct has been championing for 10 years. Local action against conflict is a key to building a lasting peace – and it works.